On June 17, 2019 I entered the small township of Zola for the first time. I was excited, a little bit nervous and had absolutely no idea the impact this community would have on me. When our driver turned off the main highway and into the township, the first thing I noticed was a sign that read “Enter to Learn, Leave to Serve.” I saw this sign and felt confused. I believed I was entering to serve. After all, the whole reason I was in South Africa in the first place was to run a sports camp for children and help facilitate a women’s empowerment workshop. I did not want to serve after I had left; I wanted to serve while I was there!
“When reflecting on my first week in Zola, I realized that I had learned more from my students than they had learned from me…ACE in South Africa not only provided me the opportunity to serve but also to learn from the people I was working with.”
My first day of work came and went, and before I knew it the week was over. On our way out of the community on Friday evening, I saw the sign once again, “Enter to Learn, Leave to Serve.” And then it hit me! When reflecting on my first week in Zola, I realized that I had learned more from my students than they had learned from me. I finally understood what the sign meant. ACE in South Africa not only provided me the opportunity to serve but also to learn from the people I was working with— to learn about their way of life, their language, their history, and their culture. From that day forward I vowed to learn as much as I could from the children and adults I was working with. Below, I will share with you the two most important lessons I learned during my time in South Africa.
“I am four weeks away from beginning my final volleyball season at Stanford. I hope to share my experience with my teammates and work towards creating a Stanford volleyball family that is centered on community and perseverance.”
The first lesson I learned is the importance of a strong community. I do not know my neighbors at home. In fact, I am embarrassed to say that I do not even know who lived in the room next to me last year at Stanford. However in the township of Zola, it is so different. Even if they are not related, most people call each other “brother” or “sister.” They greet each other on the streets and doors are open with children running in and out. Most importantly, the community values taking care of each other. At the sports camp, every time a younger camper would get knocked down, the older kids would instantly rush to his/her aid to make sure he/she was okay. Unfortunately, our camp had an enrollment limit and many kids had to stand outside the fence watching and cheering for their friends who were signed up. My heart was filled with joy when every day during lunch, my campers would share food with their friends, who were not signed up, through the fence. This amazing community took me in, made me feel welcome, and truly taught me the importance of fostering relationships! Without question, next year I will be knocking on my next-door neighbors’ door at Stanford hoping to get to know them better.
The second lesson I learned is the importance of perseverance. There are many things I take for granted, and one of them is my ability to use technology. I was born in a country where most adults have access to a phone and know how to use a computer. However, this is not the case in Zola. During our final week in South Africa, we offered free computer lessons for the men and women of the community. My first student was a woman named *Monica. *Monica seemed nervous and explained to me that she had never used a computer before. I told her not to worry and assured her with a gentle smile that it would be very easy. I was very wrong. Using a computer is very difficult if you have never used one before. The first day I spent the entire lesson teaching *Monica how to turn the computer on and off and how to use the mouse. After three hours, she still did not understand how the mouse worked; however, *Monica did not give up.
“The next time things get difficult and I feel like giving up, I will think of *Monica and push forward until I succeed.”
Throughout the lesson she keep telling me, “I am going to get this.” When she finally understood, she clasped her hands together exclaiming, “Oh it’s so easy!” She cried of happiness. I cried of happiness. And when she walked out of the room, all of her friends met her the door and cheered for her. It would have been very easy for *Monica to quit. All of her friends were able to learn how to use the mouse in five minutes, but *Monica did not care. She knew that if she worked hard and did not give up she could do it. She refused to leave the room, even for a 5-minute break, until she had mastered the mouse. *Monica taught me that perseverance is not easy or quick, but with it, you can accomplish anything you put your mind to. The next time things get difficult and I feel like giving up, I will think of *Monica and push forward until I succeed.
My time in South Africa was the most amazing experience I could have ever imagined. I learned so many valuable lessons from the people I worked with, and I will carry these lessons with me for the rest of my life. I am four weeks away from beginning my final volleyball season at Stanford. I hope to share my experience with my teammates and work towards creating a Stanford volleyball family that is centered on community and perseverance. I want to thank ACE for giving me a once- in-a-lifetime experience I will never forget! I also want to thank the children and women in Zola who taught me two of the most important lessons I have ever learned! In just three short weeks, my heart grew tenfold. Thank you so very much!